Thursday, October 25, 2007

Serenity Prayer

God, grant me

The serenity to accept the things
I cannot change,

The courage to change the things
I can,

And the wisdom
to know
the difference.

Having been in the LACW community for three months now, I have a deeper appreciation for this prayer. Serenity, courage and wisdom are three qualities I find myself challenged by and craving on a daily basis.

Serenity is the acknowledgement that peace signs, waves, and smiles do not take back the middle finger from the passerby; but the LACW is persistent in our peaceful nonviolence despite the middle fingers (real and metaphoric) that we cannot change. To be nonviolent is to spread peace and serenity during a time of conflict, not to avoid conflict through silence. Silence demonstrates neutrality and can too easily be condemned as apathy.

Our persistence to end apathy is an expression of our courage to change our world. The Catholic Worker is a foundation for an alternative lifestyle that screams out for the realization of God's equal and just kindom. Works of mercy--including feeding the poor, sheltering the homeless, visiting the imprisoned, and clothing the naked--are the soul of our faith-acted-out. I have witnessed and experienced the simple fruits of these actions, and I feel that personally my journey toward pacifism has been greatly aided by my time with the Catholic Worker.

As a community dedicated to peace, the need to change our world and the chosen avenues of change bring constant questioning. Do we serve the individual who comes as we are leaving the kitchen? Risk arrest to be of witness and in solidarity? Change our diet to match our values? Speak to others about our thoughts and experiences despite their opposition? How do we embody our cause?

Attention to these questions spurs wisdom. While preparing to act in the name of peace and justice, one must be aware of the past and present violations of peace, as well as hopes for future peace. The past is concrete as are its current effects. Presently, we must act with courage to put our mark on our future.

Without serenity, courage and wisdom, our actions are passive, negligent and ignorant.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Role of Music

Lately, I have realized that I am immersed in music. Below are a few examples of the joy we receive during the week because of sweet song that graces the LACW.

At the Kitchen, we do not listen to the radio because of past conflict over stations, volume, etc. Yet, our work days are still filled with music. Arnal, a guest at the house and dishwasher extraordinaire at the Kitchen, is in constant song. He has one on his tongue most of the time, and if he isn't singing then he is soon reminded of a song. His repertoire ranges from Stevie Wonder to the Dreamgirls soundtrack to 50 Cent. Songs usually are accompanied by a little groove: a head bob, a step here and there, snapping or clapping. Arnal is always encouraging to those who join in either dance or song with him and will ask that you "get into it!" A day at the Kitchen is simply incomplete without the voice of Arnal.

The community members also get into music at the house. Each Wednesday evening we host a liturgy which is open to all who wish to come. Faustino and Margaret play guitar, Clare and Martha sing, and I play piano for liturgy... and we have fun. Last week was especially energetic, with Jeff shouting sporadically, "Yeah! Alright!" during the songs.

After the liturgy, we invite people to stay for dinner which inevitably keeps us washing more dishes than a usual LACW meal. However, Margaret and I manage to keep the situation quite entertaining. Washing dishes in the kitchen spills over into a dance party (which keeps us washing dishes longer than is necessary). Community members will come in to give us more dishes and laugh at us, hopefully with a tone of endearment rather than embarrassment for us. I have seen how the energy we have in the kitchen on Wednesday nights can build up a little more energy and happiness at the end of the day.

During our free time at the house, Margaret and I have gotten into the habit of pulling out some music and playing for hours (literally). Currently, we're working on a great book of songs which include pieces from the Eagles, Rolling Stones, The Band, and many more. When we are playing more traditional pieces, Clare will mosey toward us and join in singing. Those moments are some of my favorites: when we can gather spontaneously for music.

And just yesterday we hosted a Hospitality Day at the house in which guys from the Row are invited to come to the LACW house for breakfast and lunch, some pleasant company and lots of relaxation. I spent most of the time at the piano playing alongside upwards of three guitarists. We kept coming up with songs, surfing through the music that is scattered around the piano and just listening to songs memorized by others. We played some songs from the 60s, and a few of the men started talking about remembering that song when they were kids and shared stories about that time of their lives.

I have always felt that music is a powerful force, but when it is added to community, music becomes more of a spirit. Music spreads happiness, revives memories, infects listeners with the urge to dance, and invites singing on a large scale. I am happy to be a part of a community that welcomes that spirit so openly.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Eight Months More

Earlier this week, I told the LACW I would like to stay until June. Before this week, I had planned to stay until December and to then begin applying for jobs and/or graduate school; however, I noticed the responsibilities I have at the kitchen, the relationships I have been forming with volunteers and community members, and my complete joy in working in disgusting, smoggy, hot LA. I could not (and still cannot) imagine myself being anywhere else in the upcoming months besides with the LACW.

There have been so many stages I have been through just to get to this point. I went through a job-hunting stage that lasted most of Spring Semester and into June. Then I went through a can't-leave-Portland stage that resulted in many late nights of conversation with friends, personal reflection and the obligatory emotional breakdown. Then, I went on a road trip. And while that doesn't seem like a stage, it gave me time to come to grips with the fact that I was leaving my home state of 22 years. Throughout all these stages, the LACW was in my mind as a back up plan (more accurately, an "if no one wants to hire me, and there is absolutely nothing else I can do short of moving in with my parents, I'll move to the LACW" plan). I never really thought I would end up here.

I am excited about the upcoming months. It is a long time for a recent college grad who had a hard time looking even a few weeks into her future when she first arrived; but this time is full of time to get to know the guys on the Row, learn the accordion, speak more Spanish, get the hang of the public transportation system, reflect on what it is I want to do as a career, polish my line-watching skills, and embrace community living.

Right now, I am living my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I am blessed enough to have a family that is supportive, even if they wouldn't make this same choice for me. While I am faced with challenges everyday, I do my best to face them directly so to make my experience here fruitful and positive. And I will continue to do so as long as I am here.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Everyone Wants a Piece of the Hippie Kitchen

Recently, the Hippie Kitchen was named LA's best place to volunteer by Los Angeles Magazine. Resulting from this truly great recognition and publicity, there have been many more people calling to inquire about volunteering with us.

On Friday, we received two unique phone calls. The first was from MTV. They are filming a reality show about a teen skateboard star. The producers want him to participate in some sort of service work. Jeff took the call and said that, of course, we would love to have him and the crew come by the kitchen... just leave the cameras at home. The producers seemed miffed that they could not film their teen giving back to his city, but Jeff said, "I guess that's the difference between charity and service."

That same day, a representative from the Dr. Phil show called wanting to film in the garden for a segment on homelessness. Faustino explained that we do not allow filming within the garden or in the kitchen while it is open. The Dr. Phil rep tried to reassure Faustino that our patrons would be portrayed in a positive light. Faustino went into a little more detail behind our "no filming" policy. As he explained it to me, as well, he noted that, "The guys at the kitchen are dirty, down on their luck, probably in the worst part of their lives. You want to shove a camera in their face? How do you think they're going to respond to that?"

Today, I answered the phone and spoke with a woman from MTV (again!) who is in charge of setting up dates on an MTV dating show for twenty-somethings. She said that the couple meets for the first time on her dime, and she is supposed to make them interact in a fun and unique way. Then, I heard the tinge of guilt: "I'd really like the date to involve service. I'd feel a little redemption if I could set up a date that gave something back." When she continued to brainstorm ways the couple could help in the kitchen, I wanted to say, "I'm sorry, but when we serve the poor, we do it for the poor. Our kitchen is not used as a stage for publicity, to show off our generosity, or to foster budding romances. But we would love for you to come in on a Saturday and volunteer!" Instead, I just said that we don't allow filming on the property.

I completely understand the desire to film within the Hippie Kitchen. We are an oasis. The guys are comfortable in the garden. There are a lot of guys who know each other and know the volunteers. It's true human interaction. And not allowing filming in the garden preserves that genuineness. It is flattering, though, that so many people think of us, and that the award from Los Angeles Magazine has delivered so much positive response.

So, MTV, Dr. Phil, Oprah, CNN, whoever... if you're reading this: No, you cannot film in our garden. But please take time out of your schedule to volunteer with us. Don't do it for the cameras. Do it for the men and women on the Row.